Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tears Over Tears

Many non-actors, (and about half of the actors out there) have certain notions as to what makes a brilliant performance. If an actor can accomplish a certain achievement, people believe that by default, they are witnessing a genius at work.

One action which holds this misguided esteem in people is bringing forth real tears during a performance.

This skill is overrated in my view. While it may certainly be part of a great actor's arsenal, the ability to cry on cue is not by itself an indicator of greatness. It is not, in my estimation, even an indicator that any acting is taking place. Those that can cry on cue, (as fascinating as the talent may be in its own right) are doing little more than those who can whistle.

I mention this because I think that actual crying, with tears and such, is a goal a lot of actors work too hard at achieving. By actual crying, I mean the shedding of tears.

Yet acting is about being sincere in presentation of the character's emotions. Unless you just happen to have the gift of instant water works coupled with a keen understanding of what leads up to a character crying, the mere process of calling forth actual tears is usually noticeable from about 30 miles away.

People tend to forget that the act of crying only culminates in the production of tears. But tear production can take place for so many reasons other than weeping. Furthermore, a person may experience something that is, for all intents and purposes, weeping, with minimal tear production.

Physically, crying begins within the chest or throat, passes slowly from the back of the neck up to and encompassing the face. To skip these steps and try to start crying right out of your eyeballs is one of the worst, (and detectable) examples of fraud in the acting world. I have worked with actors guilty of this.

Setting aside the physical sensations, let us not forget the stimulus to the heart that takes place to bring about the weeping. Unless you are an infant, crying is rarely an instant action. The pain, the fear, the realization of the circumstances that bring about the tears all must be registered by the actor. If little has led up to it, you could summon forth Niagara Falls from your tear ducts at the drop of a hat, but it will not do you or the scene an ounce of good.

An actor who is committed to all aspects of a portrayal of weeping will give an audience an authentic and memorable performance, even if no visible tears show up.

Of course if they do show up along with a sincere performance, great. But if you find yourself laboring too much over producing tears, set it aside. Otherwise your performance may illicit the wrong type of tears from the audience.


Susan Abraham said...

Yes, a forced onslaught of tears acts very much like an over-kill, doesn't it. For the viewer like me, your post today proved educational, thought-provoking and insightful. It bears an interesting topic, seen everyday almost and yet, not written about often enough.

Ty Unglebower said...

As usual, Susan, much thanks for stopping by. I am glad you got something out of this post.

Playmaker said...

I agree! In my own life, the time I cried the hardest, I made some really bizarre sounds from deep inside of me until my throat hurt and I was exhausted. But my face was dry.

As an audience member, I always find it much more moving to see a character trying *not* to cry. Trying to hold it together, and perhaps failing. Someone who gets wet and snotty isn't particulary impressive. Someone who struggles is.

Ty Unglebower said...

Excellent point, Playmaker. It is often the struggle to avoid the weeping that can make a moment poignant. The old "space between the bars" thing I have talked about several times.

The odd thing is, (and I did not mention in this in the original post), I have not yet been called upon to openly weep, (or appear to) in any of the roles I have played.

I have, however, on one or two occassions had the charcter almost weeping, or, as you say, trying not to. Just so happens that it made more sense for them to succeed at not doing so.

Susan Abraham said...

Hi again Ty, must say that I was awfully pleased with the History Boys & Jersey Boys winning the Tony awards in the magnificent way they did. Though I am Malaysian, I have had childhood roots in England and lived these last 3 years in London. As such, it all felt really special.